Frequently Asked Questions
Undertaking LA offers all same services that a normal funeral home does, but what sets us apart is our working knowledge of Funeral Law. You may notice that our FAQ page looks a little different than others, this is because we offer answers and corresponding laws to questions that pertain to how you could legally hold a funeral without the use of a Director.
We encourage you to read over the questions below, and if you want to chat more you can give us a call at 323-446-2233 to schedule a consultation.
Do I legally need a funeral director to carry out my funeral
No. California has no law requiring that a licensed funeral director be involved in making or carrying out final arrangements.
I want a home funeral. But is it legal?
Of course! In the state of California there are no laws that strictly prohibit you from taking care of your own dead. However, there may be certain cases where it would be strongly recommended that you do not. That is why public education and pre-planning this type of service is so incredibly vital.
I want to be the person in charge of planning the funeral. But am I the legal representative?
California has a specific order of responsibility. Here is an abridged version.
H&SC 7100:The first five degrees with the right to control the disposition of a deceased person goes in the following order:
An agent under a power of attorney for health care
The competent surviving spouse.
The sole surviving competent adult child of the decedent
The surviving competent parent or parents of the decedent. If one of the surviving competent parents is absent, the remaining competent parent shall be vested with the rights and duties of this section after reasonable efforts have been unsuccessful in locating the absent surviving competent parent.
The sole surviving competent adult sibling of the decedent or, if there is more than one surviving competent adult sibling of the decedent, the majority of the surviving competent adult siblings.
Who do we need to contact immediately after our loved dies?
The answer depends on the circumstance under which a person has died.
If the death was unexpected then you will need to contact the police, as the coroner may need to be involved.
If this was an expected death, for example the person has died in the home under hospice care or in a nursing home, then usually there is no one to immediately contact, other than family and friends and customarily a funeral home you are partnering with. For more information on that click here.
This means that if a death has occurred at home at 2am please do not feel that you must phone someone immediately. This absolutely can wait until morning. Please take your time with the body. You are in no immediate danger from it and it will not be harmed by waiting a few hours. If you feel particularly nervous still about this though, turning on the air conditioning or placing ice packs by the body will help keep it safe.
How do I obtain a death certifcate?
This can prove to be difficult depending on what city or county the person has died in, as everyone has their own protocol. The standard process is outlined below.
Legally, you must register a death with your local health registrar within 8 days to complete a Death Certificate. However, it's best to start as soon as possible, since you will also have a 15 hour time-frame to get the last attending physician to sign it. It may be worthwhile to seek the help of a funeral director with this specific task. Death Certificates are almost solely done electronically now (referred to as EDRS) and can be extremely difficult or impossible to do on paper depending on the city you are registering the death.
You will also need certified copies of the death certificate to carry out other tasks after the death, such as getting a permit to transport the body to the place of burial or cremation. You may be able to file the death certificate and get certified copies on the same day. If not, you will have to make a return trip to pick up the copies. Be prepared to pay $21 for each copy.
H&S 102775: Each death shall be registered with the local registrar of births and deaths in the district in which the death was officially pronounced or the body was found, within eight calendar days after death and prior to any disposition of the human remains.
H&S 102778: On or before January 1, 2005, the department shall implement an Internet-based electronic death registration system for the creation, storage, and transfer of death registration
What's a burial permit and where do I get it?
A burial permit essentially says that a body has been certified by the State and it is permissible to bury, cremate, or transport over State or County lines.
You must obtain a permit before disposing of human remains. No cemetery or crematory will accept a body without this permit. In California, the permit is called a “Permit for Disposition” or “Burial Permit.” The cost is$12.
You can request the disposition permit from the registrar’s office at the time you file the death certificate. After you have the permit, you may transport the body yourself. You can also click this link to go their website to learn more. http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/dca/dcadeathburial.htm
H&S 103050: No person shall dispose of human remains unless both of the following has occurred
There has been obtained and filed with a local registrar a death certificate, as provided in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section102775)
There has been obtained from a local registrar a permit for disposition.
Where are your forms located on your site? Isn't embalming necessary to protect myself from disease?
Embalming is almost never required. In California, a body must be embalmed if it is to be transported by a common carrier, but the Funeral Consumers Alliance makes a good argument that this law is both unenforced and unenforceable.
H&S: 7355: Except as provided in subdivision (b), the bodies of persons who have died from any cause shall not be received for transportation by a common carrier unless the body has been embalmed and prepared by a licensed embalmer and placed in a sound casket and enclosed in a transportation case.
When keeping a body at home, refrigeration or dry ice can usually preserve a body for a short time. There are resources available to help you learn to prepare a body at home for burial or cremation. The website of the National Home Funeral Alliance is a good place to start. But if you want a direct link to home funeral safety click here.
Click here for a great article from the Funeral Consumers Alliance to read more about the health risks of a dead body.
To find more resources supporting this idea, you can visit the NHFA here.
We want to be perfectly clear that we are not advocating the idea of never consulting a health professional when dealing with a person who died of a contagious disease or anything else that may simply give you concern. We just want you to know that under most normal circumstances a dead body is safe.
Can I bury the body at home?
No, you are not legally allowed to bury a body on your property. In California, a body must be buried in an established cemetery. The power to establish places for burial or entombment rests with city or county authorities.
Check with the municipal or county zoning department to find out whether you can establish a cemetery for home burial; it may be possible if you live in a rural area or if you live in another State.
H&S 8115: The governing body of any city or county, in the exercise of its police power, may by ordinance prescribe such standards governing burial, inurnment, and entombment and such standards of maintenance for cemeteries, including mausoleums and columbariums, as it shall determine to be reasonably necessary to protect the public health or safety, assure decent and respectful treatment of human remains, or prevent offensive deterioration of cemetery grounds, structures, and places of interment. Such standards may be made applicable to every public and private cemetery within the city or county.
What are the laws regarding cremation?
A cremation is: The mechanical and/or thermal or other dissolution process that reduces human remains to bone fragments."
It is a deceptive act for any funeral home to represent that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations. However, they may enforce the use of an "alternative container".
An alternative container must be one that can be closed and is leak-resistant. A cardboard box constructed for this purpose is acceptable. You do not have to buy the container from the funeral establishment or crematory, but it does have to meet the standards set by the crematory.
This is the required disclosure all funeral homes must provide for you when choosing cremations:
"If you want to arrange a direct cremation, you can use an alternative container. Alternative containers encase the body and can be made of materials like fiberboard or composition materials (with or without an outside covering). The containers we provide are ( the Funeral Home will specify containers that they use)."
H&S 7054.7: California law requires written acknowledgment of the following disclosure when cremation is to take place: "The human body burns with the casket, container, or other material in the cremation chamber. Some bone fragments are not combustible at the incineration temperature and, as a result, remain in the cremation chamber. During the cremation, the contents of the chamber may be moved to facilitate incineration. The chamber is composed of ceramic or other material which disintegrates slightly during each cremation and the product of that disintegration is commingled with the cremated remains. Nearly all of the contents of the cremation chamber, consisting of the cremated remains, disintegrated chamber material, and small amounts of residue from previous cremations, are removed together and crushed, pulverized, or ground to facilitate inurnment or scattering. Some residue remains in the cracks and uneven places of the chamber. Periodically, the accumulation of this residue is removed and interred in a dedicated cemetery property, or scattered at sea."
The person who has the right to control the disposition of the body must sign a written authorization before cremation can proceed. This authorization, or a separate contract, indicates the location, manner, and time of disposition of the remains. It also includes an agreement to pay the costs for the cremation, for disposition of the cremated remains, and for any other services desired. (If you wish to arrange for your own cremation, you can legally sign the Declaration for Disposition of Cremated Remains form yourself.)
California law does not prohibit the person authorizing the cremation from viewing the cremation process, and some facilities may be able to accommodate more than one family member. Crematories that do not allow viewing of the cremation process must disclose that fact in writing prior to signing any contract. There may be a charge for attending the cremation. Check with the crematory for its policies.
By law, all cremations must be performed individually, unless a multiple cremation is authorized in writing and the cremation chamber is capable of multiple cremations. Only a few crematories have this capability and/ or will permit it.
Scattering may be done by any person having the right to control the disposition of the cremated remains of any person or that person’s designee if the person does not dispose of or offer to dispose of more than ten cremated remains within any calendar year.